OBJECTIVE: To examine changes in women's physical health during the first postpartum year. DESIGN: Participants completed surveys at 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months post partum. PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Four hundred thirty-six first-time mothers who gave birth at one of two St Paul, Minn, hospitals during a 12-month period and who met the criteria for the study. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Physical symptoms and number of illness days experienced within the previous 2 weeks. RESULTS: Physical problems seen at a higher prevalence at 1 month post partum included breast symptoms, vaginal discomfort, fatigue, hemorrhoids, poor appetite, constipation, increased sweating, acne, hand numbness or tingling, dizziness, hot flashes, and illness days. Several of these disorders--hemorrhoids, dizziness, fatigue, and constipation--persisted beyond 1 month and were joined by other "late" problems, including respiratory symptoms, sexual concerns, and hair loss. Women who returned to the work force noted more symptoms of respiratory infections, and women with vaginal deliveries had a higher prevalence of hemorrhoids, vaginal discomfort, pain with intercourse, difficulty reaching orgasm, sinus problems, and acne. CONCLUSIONS: Recovery from childbirth often requires more than the 6 weeks traditionally allotted, and postpartum health appears to be affected by delivery type and work status.